Unlocking hearts of pub grub lovers
Albany’s Loch & Quay boasts lovely renovated space, ambitious food and drink aims, but execution sometimes shaky
For those in need of a pint and light bite in downtown Albany, Frank O’connor has dusted off a piece of Old Albany and minted a comfortable vintage pub, Loch & Quay. Operating almost continuously as a bar since 1937, 414 Broadway has been vacant since Franklin’s Tower abruptly closed in 2013, and the recent $1.4 million refurb of the building by co-owners Tom and Lauren Kennedy and O’connor’s father, Frank O’connor IV, helped by several historic revitalization grants, has resulted in a fabulous remake.
Our first reaction is impressed surprise. Inspired in part by O’connor’s time in Galway, Ireland, Loch & Quay (pronounced “lock and key”) feels lovingly updated without wandering too far into tarted-up gastropubbery. The original tin ceilings and pendant lights are there, old booths salvaged for tables and wainscoting, and the curves of an imposing late art deco bar built by local cabinetmakers Spalt & Sons after the repeal of Prohibition have been polished to a dark mahogany sheen.
O’connor, who worked at The Shop in Troy and the Olde English Pub in Albany, pumped his connections bringing in Rich Matthews, executive chef of The Shop, and formerly Jack’s Oyster House, to draft the limited menu and get the kitchen off the ground. Somehow a long skinny kitchen has been carved out of the bar’s width, with the original kitchen on the second floor now-new apartment space.
If you’re expecting the internationally inspired, quirky dishes of The Shop, you won’t find it here. Such a tiny kitchen doesn’t allow for more intensive food prep like smoking bacon or baking bread. And while Troy’s young, hip audience drives The Shop’s adventurous, vegan-forward menu, early offerings at Loch & Quay languished behind an all-day egg and bacon sandwich and burgers fired to order, reflecting the lunch preferences of office workers and downtown residents.
Rather than compete with the chef-driven menus at the City Beer Hall, the Olde English or Lost & Found, Loch & Quay keeps things simple with upscale bar snacks, burgers and sandwiches. Kitchen operations are now in the hands of two chefs who split the daily shift. Still, Matthews’ flavor-chasing mark is evident in cheese curds with roasted garlic, chile-infused honey and fresh basil; or warm, herby olives — all easy enough to plate — and the use of quality ingredients like D.o.p.-certified olive oil and Bread Alone bread. Knowing the market has meant switching from hand-wrapped pot-stickers to premade, and working to keep costs down.
Sweet maple butter on a Portuguese muffin (a dense and less holey English muffin) makes an inspired foil to applewood-smoked bacon in the fried egg sandwich. A ploughman’s burger (local Reliable Brothers patties) is fired a perfect mediumrare, though the crumbly brioche bun has a hard time handling meat juices, horseradish mustard and oozing melted cheese; it’s sodden too soon, and a proper slab of sharp cheddar with Branston-style chutney would help it live up to the ploughman name.
Avocado toast topped in roasted garlic, pink pickled onion, coarse sea salt and fried chickpeas losing translucent skins is a crowd-pleaser; the kitchen’s Cholula hot-sauce mayo powers up a chicken “cinnful” sandwich — a permanent special devised by one of the cooks — though cinnamon-tinged onions create a baffling flavor war. No surprise to find ridged potato chips and macaroni salad accompanying sandwiches, but the tangy pasta salad is notably good, boosted with horseradish mustard, hard-boiled egg, chipped bacon and lashings of dill.
Glancing around, we’re taken by deco roots dialed up with punches of color. O’connor’s
sister, Jennifer, made some daring design decisions with a vivid blue wall paint that pops against mustardgold cushions and magically mimics colors in an antique lithograph print. Potted plants and cloth-bound books add to the ambiance; a Boardman & Gray piano discovered upstairs has new life as a gold-lettered shelf.
Handing over kitchen operations is no doubt hard, and slips are clear: The smoky roasted eggplant with tahini and olive oil (baba ghanoush by any other name) is bitter from excessive burnt lemon, and, served fridge to plate, is as chilled and stodgy as ricotta cheese. A dense tomato soup misses salt and heat; soft chickpeas in piquant Buffalo sauce beg to be properly crisped, and such a big pile is too much even for four; while butternut squash in an arugula salad is completely naked, as if microwaved and sliced rather than roasted with the caramelizing effect of oil and spice. Nothing dire, but details more attentive eyes would see and fix.
We use the option of half pints (in 10-ounce pours) to justify a mid-day Guinness and two sour beers, one whispering mildly of blueberries, the other masochistically tart. With 14 drafts on tap, O’connor’s kegs are in such frequent rotation neither the printed list nor the flat-screen menu behind the bar is up to date. Looking for the sweet spot with what sells best, the furious turnover should eventually slow.
Unlike the warehouse district brewpubs and tasting rooms father north on Broadway, this southerly end nearer I-787 and the port has fewer options, making Loch & Quay ideal for a fast lunch and time left to mosey around the Fort Orange General Store next door. Trivia nights and crowds after Times Union Center shows are quickly filling Loch & Quay’s bar by night, and those still lamenting the lack of waterfront dining in the state capital might be inspired by the frilly Flemish Gothic architecture of the SUNY/D&H Building across the street. In fair weather, these sidewalk tables will be the seats to beat.
Avocado toast and a half pint of beer will cost $12 with tax, before tip.
Susie Davidson Powell is a British freelance food writer in upstate
New York. Follow her on Twitter, @Susiedp. To comment on this review, visit the Table Hopping blog, blog.timesunion.com/ tablehopping.
At top, Chicken Cinnful at Loch & Quay. Above, The Any Time Egg Sandwich at Loch & Quay.
Roasted eggplant at Loch & Quay.